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Anton BRUCKNER (1824 - 1896)
Symphony No. 3 (1889 version, edited Leopold Nowak) [59.47]
Münchner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel
rec. live, September 2012, Philharmonie, Munich, Germany
SONY CLASSICAL 88883 709292 [59.47]

On Sony Classical the Münchner Philharmoniker has released this live 2012 recording of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 conducted by the late Lorin Maazel who was then its music director.

With his work Bruckner paid homage to Richard Wagner when in Bayreuth his hero agreed to be the dedicatee of a marked ‘The Master, Richard Wagner, in deepest respect’. Occasionally referred to as the ‘WagnerSymphony the score contains several quotations from Wagner’s music-dramas; Die Walküre and Tristan und Isolde in the first movement, Lohengrin and Die Walküre in the Adagio in addition to other Wagnerian motifs.

The first version was completed in 1873 but Bruckner had severe problems in obtaining a first performance with difficulties arising at every turn. Finally in 1877 in Vienna it received its première with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Bruckner’s baton. It is thought that Bruckner was not a highly competent conductor and sadly the performance was a disaster with many of the audience leaving before the end followed by the inevitable critical disapproval. Bruckner gave the score considerable revision and it is the 1889 version that is played here by Lorin Maazel. This edition often described as the composer’s final thoughts was subsequently published by Leopold Nowak in 1959. Any current trend to encourage the use of Bruckner’s first thoughts using the original 1873 score has not been matched by any significant influx of recordings.

In the opening movement Maazel is bold and upbeat in mood maintaining a steadfast forward movement that feels ideal. Overall I would have preferred a slightly weightier sound. The treasurable second movement Adagio is beautifully performed by Maazel’s Bavarian players with a quite judicious pace. Said to be inspired by the death of Bruckner’s mother I can’t help thinking this movement could really be Bruckner’s expression of unreciprocated love for a girl with whom he may have become infatuated. Maazel’s Scherzo is vivid and punchy in the dramatic passages contrasted with a delightful feathery Austrian Ländler. I relish the sense of grandeur that Maazel lavishes on the remarkable final movement, sustaining an especially glorious flow that feels both compelling and satisfying. The section with the Polka over the solemn Chorale sounds impressive and after the conclusion I went back to repeat it several times.

Probably the most satisfying performance I have heard is that played by the NDR Sinfonieorchester under Günter Wand recorded live in 1985 at Hamburg Musikhalle on Profil Edition Günter Hänssler. A master of his art and a Bruckner specialist, Wand acknowledges the grandeur of the score with a noble and compelling reading. I also admire the performance by Eugen Jochum with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks on Deutsche Grammophon. Recorded in 1967 at the Herkulessaal, Munich this is a powerfully expressive reading from Jochum with excellent sound. It has rightly gained ‘classic’ status. Last summer I recall reporting on an engaging performance by the HR-Sinfonieorchester under Paavo Järvi at Semperoper as part of the 2014 Dresden Music Festival.

Recorded for Sony in September 2012 at the Philharmonie, Munich nowhere in the booklet does it state this is a live performance although it can be assumed owing to the enthusiastic audience applause. The recording team for Sony has provided clarity and balance together with excellent presence. I would have preferred considerably more information on the score than is provided in the rather run of the mill booklet essay. This notable live account can join the ranks of the finest recordings in the catalogue.
Michael Cookson